Thursday, September 28

Filmin, Movistar, Netflix, Flix ole: Movies about psychopathic killers of girls

Image of ‘M, the vampire of Düsseldorf’. / CR

There are two essential films with this theme and an uncredited ‘remake’


The movies are full of psychopaths, but they are murderers of girls, there are two essentials, two gems, one German from 1930 and the other Spanish from 1958, both with a common approach but with very different developments: Son ‘M, the vampire of Dusseldorf’, by Fritz Lang, and ‘The Bait’, by Ladislao Vajda, to which one could also add ‘The Oath’, by Sean Penn (2001), an uncredited remake of ‘The Bait’.

M, the vampire of Düsseldorf (Movistar +, 1931

Directed by Fritz Lang and starring Peter Lorre, Otto Wernicke and Theo Lingen, one of the greatest titles of Lang’s first German stage, famous among other reasons for his hidden denunciation of the Nazism of his time. Peter Lorre carried out here an impressive interpretation of a psychopathic murderer in whose figure a good part of the evils of a hypocritical and sick society are summed up. The film, the director’s first sound film, is inspired by the real case of Peter Kürten, who murdered several children in the city of Düsseldorf.

In the city of Düsseldorf, a murderer of girls is on the loose causing fear among the population, creating a collective paranoia that is growing. Criminal Hans Beckert (Peter Lorre) is a shadowy employee who lives alone in a nondescript boarding house. The police are on the verge of desperation; the city council demands results, the people clamor for the apparent incompetence of the authorities. Thus, the efforts of the police become increasingly abusive and authoritarian: discretionary inspections of houses, harassment of suspicious citizens by arresting any minimally suspicious person, daily raids of clubs and meeting places of the criminal element. Nothing works and all sectors of society will be mobilized in search of the dangerous infanticide. For their part, the bosses of the underworld, furious at the raids they are suffering because of the murderer, decide to look for him themselves, given that the police pressure is ruining their businesses, hiring the beggars of the city to watch the streets without raise suspicions.

The film is presented in a splendid copy beautifully restored in 2011, the most complete version of the different ones that have been seen over the years. it premiered on May 11, 1931 in Berlin (in Spain it did almost at the same time, on November 24, 1931). Since then it has been released in various versions and durations different from the original. Among them are the English and the French (both from 1932), with a different montage and changes in content. Fritz Lang did not intervene in any of these montages. Also the 1960 revival differed from the 1931 original. It was cut down to 96 minutes and music was added to several scenes. A considerable part of the work of Fritz Lang and Thea von Harbou was no longer available. For decades there were various attempts to recover the original version of the film. This was possible, for the first time, in 2001 and thanks to the new technologies available, a new montage was prepared just as Fritz Lang had conceived it. As only 70% of the original negative was preserved, the remaining scenes and images were extracted from different prints. However, and according to what was already assumed at the time, there are still some images that are considered lost. In addition, there were several very deteriorated fragments, both due to damage to the frames and due to copy failures. In the 2001 restoration, many of these images were completed thanks to a negative of the French version. An important improvement of the present restoration has been the treatment of the sound according to Lang’s original idea. Parts of the film are completely silent and others with brief sound notes. This restored version of the Fritz Lang classic is 111 minutes long. It is known that when authorized, its duration was 117 minutes. However, in what has been advanced in the investigations, it is very possible that this version was not released.

The film can be considered as the swan song of German expressionism, with baroque sets and shots full of high and low angle shots.

Protagonists of ‘The Bait’. /


The Bait (Flix Olé, 1958)

Directed by the Hungarian based in Spain Ladislao Vajda (‘Marcelino Pan y Vino’), it is a Hispanic-Swiss co-production starring Heinz Rühmann, María Rosa Salgado, Michel Simon and Gert Fröbe from a script by Friedrich Dürrenmatt on which he would later write a novel.

A peddler finds the body of a girl in a forest. He notifies Commissioner Mattei (Heinz Rühmann), an acquaintance of his, who is in charge of the case. Mattei rents a gas station in the crime zone, and stays at the house of Mrs. Heller (María Rosa Salgado), who has a girl the age of the victim, and without revealing her true identity, she decides that the girl will serve as a bait for the killer. The girl has already seen the man and spoken with him without anyone knowing, since the magician (Gert Fröbe) – that’s what she calls him – makes her promise that she will not tell anyone that she knows him. Only then will she play tricks on him with a little puppet. Commissioner Mattei, by means of some drawings that some companions of the murdered girl showed him, believes that the murderer must live in the canton of Graubünden. He makes inquiries about the license plates of the cars and their owners. Once, when the commissioner returns home, he sees that the girl comes out of a forest. He interrogates her and, although the girl does not tell him anything about the encounter, she finds chocolate for her and ends up discovering her date with the magician. He warns the mother of the danger her daughter is in and decides to dress a doll with the girl’s clothes. Meanwhile, the girl runs away from her house to go to the forest.

Zombies in Haiti

One of the great films in the history of Spanish cinema (here set in Switzerland since for censorship reasons “in Franco’s Spain there could be no murderers of girls”). As in Lang’s film, the killer is once again a diffident and shy man with an inferiority complex. If in that one he was dominated by his tyrannical mother, here it is by his no less tyrannical wife. ‘El cebo’ has some hard and solid, distant and well-constructed images, which maintain an intense dramatic climate and which proposes a brilliant exercise in criminal psychology investigation, showing a policeman for whom everything is worth as long as he catches the criminal, even using an innocent girl as bait. The film was selected for the Berlin Festival, and premiered in Spain on February 12, 1959.

Nicholson in ‘The Oath’. /


The oath (Movistar +, 2001)

Directed by Sean Penn and starring Jack Nicholson alongside Patricia Clarkson and Robin Wright, it is an unconventional intimate thirller that directly adapts Dürrenmatt’s novel. When the film was presented at Cannes, a Spanish journalist asked Penn about Vajda’s version. The director lied like a villain denying knowing her, and claimed that he had directly adapted the novel.

Far inferior to ‘The Bait’, ‘The Oath’ casts Jack Nicholson as a retiring homicide detective who decides to take on the murder of an eight-year-old girl in the mountains. Convinced that it is related to other murders perpetrated years before, he swears to the victim’s parents that he will find the culprit. An oath that will become an obsession. Confronted with the tragic nature of the crime, the suffering of the parents, and his own uncertainty about life after leaving the police force, the detective is driven by the intuition that the real killer is still on the loose and ready to strike again. again, so he decides to start his own murder investigation, without bosses and without authority. His investigations take him to the school where he studied the murdered girl. There he talks with the psychology teacher and with the girl’s classmates, and discovers that the murderer is a man with a certain car, thanks to a drawing made by another girl with the same age as the murdered one, which he will use as a trap to hunt the killer

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It was the third feature film directed by Sean Penn, after ‘Strange Blood Bond’ and ‘Crossing the Darkness’. It premiered in Spain on October 26, 2001.

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